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For a 2009 graduate of Wapakoneta High School, the decision to return to her hometown will be based primarily on opportunity and less on allegiance.
Heather Wells, who was a member of the school’s top five students, is studying biology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. and intends to study veterinary medicine after college graduation.
“Things are going great here and I really like it, but it is totally different than Wapak,” Wells said. “It’s such a large city and the university has everything we don’t, it is so different and I like it a lot. There is just so much diversity.”
Wells, who is the daughter of Natasha Hengstler and former Wapakoneta Councilor-at-large Wilbur Wells, views the world much differently now after being exposed to new groups, new cultures and new people.
“It is definitely an eye opener because there are so many more possibilities than you ever thought before — Wapak is really small and there is not a whole lot of breadth to get involved,” Wells told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “You come here (Vanderbilt) and there are people from all over the country and throughout the world — it is just so eye opening to see how much more the world has to offer than ever before.”
The former top student chose Vanderbilt University, where she earned a $50,000 per year grant, with a total award of $200,000, because of the university’s excellence in academics.
Her interest in the university started because of its course of studies. With her interest piqued, she said she fell in love with the campus during a visit with her mother.
“I originally picked it because it was prestigious and the I really liked the caliber of its academics, and after I visited I absolutely fell in love with it because the campus is beautiful, everyone I talked to was very friendly and I really like the Southern hospitality,” Wells told the Wapakoneta Daily News in 2009. “The people in their financial aid office were extremely helpful — there was not a single thing I didn’t like about the university.”
During her past two years, she has learned the university has much more to offer.
“My favorite aspect of attending Vanderbilt is it is a very concentrated place and many of the colleges and disciplines have people at the top of their field,” Wells said. “These people are very intelligent and very respected so it is a way to make connections.”
That direction has taken a slight twist.
She initially intended to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology or chemistry as a precursor to attending medical school. While she had considered studying to become a veterinarian early in high school, Wells decided on the medical field prior to her high school graduation.
“I wanted to do veterinary medicine for a long time because I really liked how it applied the sciences and I really loved animals,” Wells said in May 2009. “There was nothing specific that happened, I just decided to concentrate on people instead. It was that and in veterinary medicine you have to learn more, such as anesthesiology, and if you do medicine you can be specialized and more in-depth into one area.”
Her intentions to study internal medicine, researching and developing cures for rare and uncommon diseases and viruses has since reverted to studying veterinarian medicine. That direction may not provide the opportunity to return home, but it will likely lead to residing in other parts of the United States and the world.
“The direction I would like to go would not permit to live in Wapakoneta because I would like to study zoological veterinary medicine or some form of conservation work — which is not really possible,” Wells said. “I would come back to visit.”
Attending Vanderbilt, she had to move away from her family which includes her mother and stepfather, her father and stepmother as well as a brother, Chris Wells, a sister, Kelly Wells, a stepbrother, Holden Hengstler, and a stepsister, Julie Thornhill.
During her visits, she said she makes time to spend with her family and friends as well as to reflect on her schooling and extracurriculars at Wapakoneta High School.
She said she misses playing tennis and now understands how good of physical condition she was in when she was competing. She now enjoys doing Pilates about once a week.
She played varsity tennis and was a member of the Wapakoneta High School Marching Band and the symphonic band.
Looking into the future, she said she knows Wapakoneta government leaders and business leaders realize the city’s location has a lot to offer being in the middle of several large metropolitan areas with Columbus to the east, Cincinnati to the south, Indianapolis to the west and Fort Wayne and Toledo to the north.
“Wapak leaders must realize the size of the city makes a difference and we are not very culturally diverse — that was something I never would have considered when I lived there but it is something you learn to value more and it is something I appreciate more,” Wells said. “The city suffers because there are no large universities to drive research and development.
“I like Wapakoneta, though, it is really safe,” she said. “In Nashville there are sections you cannot go, but Wapakoneta the entire city is pretty safe.
“To a certain extent it is nice because you know everybody and if you need anything or help, they help you and that is definitely not the case in Nashville,” she said. “Wapakoneta is still a great place to live and raise kids.”